Tag: Low Income Housing Institute

Downtown Seattle Could Get Storefront Police Precinct, Finalist for Sheriff Would Have to Go Back to Police Academy if Appointed

1. The Seattle Police Department could open a “mini precinct” in a storefront owned by the Low Income Housing Institute on Third Avenue downtown, and is also considering a second location at LIHI’s Frye Apartments in Pioneer Square, Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office and LIHI director Sharon Lee confirmed.

The Third Avenue storefront, a short-lived Shake n Shake location, is on the ground floor of LIHI’s Glen Hotel Apartments, a single-room occupancy low-income housing building. Before the pandemic, the block was home to a Kress IGA grocery store and a TJ Maxx discount store, but both shut down in 2020, leaving most of the block without a tenant to attract foot traffic. The site is one block from Third and Pine, a locus of the recent crackdown on street-level crime known as Operation New Day. According to Lee, the “illegal market activity” has gotten worse since police swept Third and Pine, as drug dealers and people selling shoplifted items moved to nearby locations.

Lee said people have broken in to the apartment building and slept, urinated, and defecated in the hallways and stairwells. “The residents upstairs are scared to come out at night; they’re scared to walk around the neighborhood,” Lee said. “So we decided to offer the city the use of the space as a place where community service officers or bike officers can use it to park their bikes, take a restroom break, write up reports, and keep an eye on the street.”

LIHI would provide the space to SPD at a “nominal” cost, Lee said.

The Frye Apartments, located across the street from Prefontaine Fountain and fenced-off City Hall Park, used to have a mini-precinct on the first floor, Lee said, but the space was occupied until recently by Aladdin Bail Bonds.

A spokesman for Harrell, Jamie Housen, said the mayor’s office “is in early stages of considering what a neighborhood precinct could look like. We are continuing to explore all options for enhancing public safety downtown, including a more permanent police presence.” The two LIHI buildings “have been offered as potential options, but are by no means the only locations being considered,” Housen said.
A spokesman for the Downtown Seattle Association said the DSA would welcome a permanent police presence downtown.“As we’ve seen over the past month, dedicated resources along Third Avenue have led to a safer, more welcoming environment. Sustaining this effort is essential for the people who live and work along Third, and it’s critical as more workers and visitors return to the heart of the city. … If a mini-precinct is an element that will help enhance safety, then it should be welcomed,” the spokesman said.

2. Interim King County Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall, one of three finalists for the permanent sheriff position, would have to attend the state’s 19-week-long police academy and be certified by the state Criminal Justice Training Commission if she’s selected and confirmed as sheriff; during that time, an undersheriff chosen by Cole-Tindall would serve as sheriff, King County Executive Dow Constantine’s office confirmed.

Cole-Tindall, 57, mentioned the requirement during an interview with members of the press on Tuesday. Although Cole-Tindall attended the state’s Basic Law Enforcement Academy decades ago and is a commissioned officer, she spent most of her career outside of law enforcement, working as an investigator for the state Employment Security Division and the county’s labor relations director before joining the sheriff’s office as head of the Technical Services Division, which oversees a miscellany of operations, including courthouse security, the automated fingerprint ID system, and the county’s 911 system.

“[When] I went through [the police academy] 30 years ago, I was 30 years younger,” Cole-Tindall said. “And it’s a lot… It’s doing firearms, Taser, traffic stops—things that, as a police administrator, are not things I would be using on my day to day job.” Cole-Tindall said she would also have to pass a physical assessment test that includes “pushups, sit-ups, and squat thrusts” before entering the academy.

A spokesman for King County Executive Dow Constantine said that when the county has a permanent sheriff but the sheriff is unavailable, an undersheriff assumes the job. Although Cole-Tindall appointed Jesse Anderson as interim undersheriff when she became interim sheriff earlier this year, she could appoint a different undersheriff if she becomes permanent sheriff, and that person would then serve as sheriff in her absence.

Constantine will nominate a permanent sheriff in early May. The other finalists are Maj. Reginald Moorman from the Atlanta Police Department and Killeen, Texas police chief Charles Kimble.

Tiny-House Funding Debate Reveals Fractures Over Future of Homelessness System

Low Income Housing Institute director Sharon Lee
Low-Income Housing Institute director Sharon Lee at an event promoting a proposed tiny-house village in South Lake Union last year.

By Erica C. Barnett

Last week, the Seattle Times published a story about state Rep. Frank Chopp’s (D-43) decision to allocate $2 million in state funding to the Low-Income Housing Institute to build tiny house villages. Both Chopp and LIHI’s director, Sharon Lee, took issue with the piece, which suggested that Chopp (who co-founded LIHI 31 years ago, but has no financial interest in the nonprofit) had improperly used his power to take the money away from three other projects that the King County Regional Homelessness Authority had chosen through a competitive bidding process.

The story of the $2 million is both more complicated and simpler than the Times’ coverage suggested. More complicated, because the state allocated the funds for tiny house villages almost a year ago; the money was never spent because of decisions made by Mayor Jenny Durkan, whose administration gave a series of excuses for not releasing the funds before her term ended last year. And simpler, because the money is ultimately controlled by the state, which can do what they want with it—including funding LIHI directly without going through any bidding process.

Chopp says he first agreed to find $2 million to fund tiny house villages after City Councilmember Andrew Lewis, a longtime advocate for tiny house villages, asked Chopp to help fund his “It Takes A Village” strategy—a plan to build 12 tiny house villages across the city. The 2021 state capital budget, adopted last April, dedicated the $2 million explicitly to “tiny homes (Seattle).” Last June, the council adopted—and Durkan signed—the Seattle Rescue Plan, which, among other things, allocated another $400,000 in operations funds to supplement the $2 million from the state (on top of $2.8 million from the 2021 budget that had gone unspent) to build new tiny house villages. The Durkan Administration, however, never spent the money.

“They never had the money. It was not theirs to begin with.”—State Rep. Frank Chopp (D-43)

At the time, Durkan’s staff gave several reasons for declining to take action on the funding, including the fact that the city hadn’t allocated long-term funding to keep the villages for years in the future (as council members pointed out at the time, the city only budgets in one-year increments); a lack of staffing as the city’s Homelessness Strategy and Investment division emptied out in the runup to the KCRHA taking over; and a desire to let the KCRHA’s new director, Marc Dones, implement their own shelter strategy.

Dones has made no secret of their desire to overhaul the region’s shelter system. On several occasions, Dones expressed skepticism about the tiny-house village model, suggesting that group houses or a more direct route from the street to permanent housing might be a better option. This created a sense of urgency for tiny-house proponents to get the new villages up and running by the end of 2021, before the authority took over, as well as a mistrust between LIHI and the new authority that persists to this day.

Advocates for tiny house villages were still asking the city to spend the $2 million as late as September, but gained no traction. “We were all frustrated that that money sat there for a whole year, and we kept asking the mayor’s’ office and [the Human Services Department, why aren’t you putting out a [request for proposals?]” LIHI director Sharon Lee recalled.

According to Chopp, as 2021 wound down, he called Lewis and the interim director of the city’s Office of Intergovernmental Relations, Robin Koskey, and said “‘Time’s up. A year ago, you promised it was all ready to go, and you promised the money would be spent by the first quarter of this year,'” which ended on March 31. At that point, Chopp said, he decided to take action by writing a local community project request—a way of earmarking capital funds for specific projects—to fund the three LIHI villages. Chopp said he told Nigel Herbig, the KCRHA’s intergovernmental relations director, “Nigel, you don’t have the money” in the third week of January.

The Times reported that Chopp withdrew money that the KCRHA had in hand, a contention Chopp called “ridiculous. They never had the money,” he said. “It was not theirs to begin with.”

A KCRHA spokeswoman, Anne Martens, did not respond to detailed questions about Chopp’s conversation with Herbig, subsequent conversations between Chopp and the KCRHA, or why the authority moved forward to seek bids for the $2 million even after being told the money was going to LIHI. “[A]s you know, the RFP as awarded does fund tiny house villages,” Martens said in an email—a reference to a 25-unit project the Chief Seattle Club proposed in partnership with LIHI and a separate expansion of Catholic Community Services’ existing Pallet Shelter on 15th Ave. W.

Despite Chopp’s action to earmark the $2 million for LIHI, the agency still applied for funding through the KCRHA’s process; as we reported, the authority rejected both of their applications to build and operate their own tiny house villages, saying that their proposal to build a village on City Light-owned property in South Lake Union, which Lewis supported, would require people to live in “inhumane living conditions.”

Martens said she would have to look into our question about what specific conditions were “inhumane” when we asked about this last Tuesday, and had not followed up by press time. In a previous conversation, Martens said the awards prioritized “equity” and “lived experience.” The authority, Martens said, used “competitive bidding in order to be more equitable… and that is reflective of our commitment to centering lived experience.”

Asked why she applied for KCRHA funding if she knew Chopp had already earmarked the $2 million for LIHI, Lee said she “assumed that KCRHA had chosen to backfill (add) the $2 million from other sources,” such as leftover rapid rehousing funds from the Durkan Administration’s unsuccessful effort to cycle unsheltered quickly through hotels into permanent, often market-rate, apartments.  “Why would the RHA take this information and then proceed to award the funds if they were told that the funds were not available?” Lee said. “Why wouldn’t they make another plan or find additional funding?”

“We’re using every single dollar that we can right now to address the crisis of homelessness and housing and the shadow pandemic—all of those dollars are accounted for. We cannot continue to layer on additional funding.”—City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda

KCRHA has not said how they plan to pay for the projects that won funding through its bidding process. One possibility, Martens said, is to go to the city of Seattle, which provides about 70 percent of the authority’s funding, for the money. “We are talking to the City about this whole snafu to figure out what the next steps are,” she said.

Barring a dramatic turnaround in its budget forecast, the city seems unlikely to provide the authority with additional money this year. “We’re using every single dollar that we can right now to address the crisis of homelessness and housing and the shadow pandemic—all of those dollars are accounted for,” city council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda said. “Marc and the RHA are receiving 68 percent of their funding from the city of Seattle. We cannot continue to layer on additional funding.”

Mosqueda called Chopp’s action to allocate the $2 million to LIHI “appropriate,” adding, “We have to be good partners with the state legislature when they trying to help with the most pressing issue in our city. You either use funding or you lose funding, and I’m glad that the  funding is being deployed so that people can continue to get access to tiny house villages, regardless of whether through RHA or directly from the state legislature.” Continue reading “Tiny-House Funding Debate Reveals Fractures Over Future of Homelessness System”

City to Sweep Sites of Recent Shootings; Unclear When In-Person Council Meetings Will Resume; Homelessness Authority Frustrated by Chopp Money Grab

1. The city plans to remove two encampments on Friday, including one in a vacant hillside lot along 10th Ave. S between S. Weller St. and Dearborn Ave. S where a 43-year-old homeless man, Arkan Al-Aboudy, was shot to death on March 17. Currently, there are about 50 tents at the 10th Ave. site, which spills out into 10th Avenue itself and down the hill to Dearborn. The area has been the site of encampments for many years, and marks the northern boundary of an infamous encampment known as the Jungle that the city removed in 2016.

The vacant land where the encampment is located has been owned since the late 1990s by Christopher Koh, a developer and landlord whose company, Coho Real Estate, also owns and operates a number of apartment buildings in the University District and the International District. A small city park called Beacon Place is located in the middle of the property.

According to the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections, the city can’t require fencing around private property, and the property owner has no plans “in the short term” to fence in or otherwise secure the site.

Contacted by phone, Koh said he supports the encampment removal and has no plans “in the short term” to fence in or otherwise secure the site, which is adjacent to a Seattle Housing Authority apartment building and the Seattle Indian Health Board clinic.

“At one time, there was a discussion with the city about placing a fence” around the property, Koh said, but the city decided not to do so because it could impede emergency response to the area. “I recall [the Seattle Police Department] saying it can be dangerous for the police to go into an area where it’s completely fenced off like that—where there isn’t visibility,” Koh said. SPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The city often prevents new encampments from cropping up on land it owns by erecting fences around the area; you can see them all over the city, from underneath the Ballard Bridge to City Hall Park in downtown Seattle. According to a spokeswoman for the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections, the city can’t require fencing around private property, and the city’s Vacant Building Monitoring program only applies to properties with buildings, not vacant lots.

The city will also remove a small encampment at I-5 and 45th Ave. NE where Santo Zepeda-Campos, 38, was fatally shot on Sunday, March 20.

A spokesman for Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office said both encampments “are being removed to address immediate public safety issues” in response to the shootings. REACH, the city’s outreach contractor, has been doing outreach at the site, and “will decide based on [the] situation whether they come in Friday,” according to REACH director Chloe Gale.

The encampment is located a block away from the Downtown Emergency Service Center’s Navigation Center shelter, which is one of the receiving sites for HOPE team referrals.

UPDATE Friday, March 25: Mayoral spokesman Jamie Housen said Friday that about 20 people living at the 10th Avenue encampment received referrals to shelter from the city’s HOPE team before parks department workers removed the encampment Friday morning.

Housen said encampment residents received referrals to Jan and Peter’s Place (a women’s shelter), Otto’s Place (a men’s shelter run by the same organization, Compass Housing Alliance), the Navigation Center, the Roy Street men’s shelter, and the True Hope tiny house village in the Central District. All four shelters are are congregate emergency shelters, meaning that people sleep in common sleeping areas; only the Navigation Center allows all genders, although people sleep in gender-segregated areas.

As we’ve reported, most of the city’s shelter “referrals” do not result in a person actually checking in at a shelter and sleeping there. People decide not to enter emergency shelter after receiving a referral for a variety of reasons, including the desire to stay with a partner or pet, not wanting to relinquish bulky possessions, or other barriers imposed by a shelter, such as strict rules against using drugs or alcohol.

2. Although employees in most city departments began returning to their physical offices on March 16, the mayor’s return-to-work directive doesn’t apply to the legislative branch, which is returning to the office more slowly and won’t resume in-person council meetings any time soon.

In an email sent Friday, March 18, City Council President Debora Juarez told city council staffers that they would need to return to the office or work out alternative work schedules by April 27, six weeks after the rest of the city. (Bargaining with unions representing two sets of legislative staffers was one of the reasons for the slower timeline.) Juarez has reportedly been reluctant to return to in-person council meetings, and her email suggests that future council meetings might happen either “onsite in Council Chambers or in a hybrid remote meeting style.”

According to council staff, the department hasn’t figured out the logistics of conducting hybrid meetings, and it’s unclear whether “hybrid remote” refers to meetings that would continue to be entirely remote, or whether some council members would return to council chambers while others tapped in from home or their offices. Juarez did not respond to a request for clarification, and a staffer said any decision about whether to return to in-person meetings was not part of the overall return-to-work announcement.

In her email, Juarez encourages legislative staffers who do return to the office to wear a red, yellow, or green wristband “to communicate your level of comfort with respect to close contacts.” According to Juarez, the idea came from a staffer in Councilmember Alex Pedersen’s office. “I also feel the wrist bands are an excellent way to say ‘Welcome Back’ to the workplace,” Juarez wrote. “Having a sense of personal safety is important to all of us.” The mayor’s office has distributed similar wristbands, but the trend hasn’t trickled down yet to departmental employees, who make up the majority of city staff.

3. The Seattle Times reported today that State Rep. Frank Chopp, who co-founded the Low Income Housing Institute, intervened to apportion $2 million from the state budget to LIHI tiny house villages that did not make the cut for funding in a competitive bidding process conducted by the King County Regional Homelessness Authority.

As we reported earlier this week, the regional authority allocated about $4 million in federal and local dollars (including federal Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery dollars allocated through the state budget) to three non-congregate shelter projects. Chopp’s unusual intervention reversed funding for two of those projects—an expansion of Catholic Community Services’ Pallet shelter on 15th Ave. W and a new tiny house village operated by Chief Seattle Club in collaboration with LIHI—to fund LIHI projects elsewhere. Continue reading “City to Sweep Sites of Recent Shootings; Unclear When In-Person Council Meetings Will Resume; Homelessness Authority Frustrated by Chopp Money Grab”

Homeless Authority Funds Pallet Shelter, JustCARE, and Just One of Three Proposed Tiny House Villages

By Erica C. Barnett

The King County Regional Homelessness Authority will fund 50 new tiny house and Pallet shelter units and partially extend the JustCARE hotel-based shelter program, using federal and city of Seattle funds. The awards, announced last week, will go to three projects: A new 25-unit tiny house village operated by Chief Seattle Club and the Low-Income Housing Institute; a 25-unit expansion of Catholic Community Services’ existing Pallet shelter village on Elliott Ave. W, and partial funding for Public Defender Association-led JustCARE hotel-based shelter program, which will receive ongoing operating funds for its 90-room Equity JustCARE program.

The authority rejected three applications, including two for new LIHI tiny house villages—one at a Seattle City Light-owned property in South Lake Union (where Therapeutic Health Services had committed to provide on-site behavioral health care), and one just north of Rainier Beach, where the Refugee Women’s Alliance (ReWA) planned to provide case management

Last year, advocates for tiny house villages pushed the mayor’s office to move quickly to use $2.4 million in existing city dollars to fund three new villages before the authority—whose director, Marc Dones, has been critical of the tiny-house model—took control of the regional homelessness system. When that didn’t happen, the money moved over to the authority, which issued an open request for proposals for the money, along with funds from the federal government totaling another $2.4 million.

“We wanted to be kind of the opposite of NIMBY. We said, ‘We’ll give you the money if you put the [village] next to us.'”—John Pehrson, Mirabella Civic Engagement Project

In a meeting of the KCRHA’s governing board last week, KCRHA chief programming officer Peter Lynn said the authority picked the three projects “in rank order,” adding that three proposals “did not receive funding based on running out of funds, as happens.” The RFP itself, which was extended and amended to allow Pallet (a for-profit company) to apply for funds, includes the criteria the authority used to evaluate the applications.

The three programs the KCRHA will fund, however, did not use up all the funding that was available; according to KCRHA spokeswoman Anne Martens, the Public Defender Association “did not request development funding, so there is a total of $919,812 of unallocated funding ($696,515 of [Department of Commerce capital] funds, and $223,297 of HSD services & operations funds). The raters did not want to partially fund an organization and suggested allocating additional funds during contract negotiations.”

PDA co-director Lisa Daugaard said her organization expects to work with the KCRHA to come up with a site or sites to replace the downtown Seattle hotel where Equity JustCARE has been providing shelter and services to clients with high-acuity behavioral health needs since last year. “We don’t have a site, and understand RHA will be matching the team to a site that is appropriate for participants with complex behavioral health needs,” Daugaard said.

The PDA is still working with the city to come up with a plan for another 150 JustCARE clients currently living in five different hotels; without additional funding, the PDA will have to find other placements for those clients or discharge them back onto the street at the end of June.

Among the proposals the KCRHA’s raters rejected was a tiny house village in South Lake Union that had support, and funding, from the residents of the Mirabella apartments, a retirement community near the proposed village site. John Pehrson, a leader of the Mirabella Civic Engagement Project, said “it was very disappointing to us” that the KCRHA rejected the proposal, for which Mirabella residents and the Mirabella Seattle Foundation raised about $143,000. Continue reading “Homeless Authority Funds Pallet Shelter, JustCARE, and Just One of Three Proposed Tiny House Villages”

Pallet, a For-Profit Provider of Utilitarian Shelters, Could Be a Contender for County Funding

By Erica C. Barnett

Over the past two years, a broad consensus emerged that non-congregate shelter—hotel rooms, tiny houses, and other kinds of physically separated spaces—was both healthier and more humane than the typical pre-pandemic congregate shelter setup, in which dozens of people sleep inches apart on cots or on the ground. When people are offered a choice between semi-congregate shelter and more private spaces, they’re far more likely to “accept” a hotel room or tiny house, and once there, they’re more likely to find housing than they would in traditional congregate shelters.

In January, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority issued a request for proposals for almost $5 million to fund new non-congregate shelter spaces. (An RFP is a preliminary step in the process of selecting and funding nonprofit service providers). The Low-Income Housing Institute, which operates a dozen tiny house villages in and around Seattle, applied, as did Seattle’s JustCARE program, which offers hotel-based shelter and case management to people with complex behavioral health challenges and criminal justice involvement.

The original schedule called for the KCRHA to award the funding last month. Instead, at the end of January, the authority did something unusual: They extended the RFP by two weeks and expanded its terms to allow for-profit companies, rather than just nonprofits, to apply. The only for-profit firm that builds noncongregate shelters locally is an Everett-based company called Pallet. 

Although the KCRHA wouldn’t say whether Pallet applied for the money, the authority’s CEO, Marc Dones, has frequently expressed skepticism about LIHI’s tiny house village model, arguing that people stay in tiny houses too long and that the “proliferation” of villages around King County needs to end.

Pallet might offer an alternative. The company builds “cabins” that serve a similar function to, but look and feel very different than, LIHI’s wooden shelters. If tiny houses look like scaled-down Craftsman homes, complete with sharply peaked roofs and porches, pallet shelters resemble miniature FEMA trailers—identical, white, and utilitarian. According to Pallet spokesman Brandon Bills, that’s by design. The shelters, which are made of prefabricated aluminum and composite panels, are meant to feel temporary, because shelter is supposed to be temporary.

“All our villages have some version of forward momentum” said Bills, who added that the typical stay at a Pallet shelter is between three and six months. “We want them to be warm and safe, which they are, but we don’t want to encourage people to live in these for a long period of time, whereas something that’s more cutesy or homey might be more welcoming for a longer period of time.”

“We want them to be warm and safe, which they are, but we don’t want to encourage people to live in these for a long period of time, whereas something that’s more cutesy or homey might be more welcoming for a longer period of time.”—Pallet spokesman Brandon Bills

On a recent sunny afternoon, Catholic Community Services program manager Jennifer Newman showed me around the pallet village at CCS’ Junction Point shelter, an expansion of a modular shelter complex that opened in 2020 as part of the effort to “de-intensify” mass shelters across the city in response to the pandemic.

The cabins, arranged in narrow rows on a barren lot facing busy Elliott Avenue West, are taller and more spacious than they appear from the road, with high windows for ventilation, a fold-out cot, and a few small shelves for personal belongings. Each row of cabins is anchored by a portable toilet, but residents can access restrooms, along with a kitchen, common areas, and showers, at the main shelter building a few yards away.

Newman said guests at the shelter, which began as a “deintensification” site for CCS’ St. Martin de Porres shelter, vastly prefer the individual shelters to cubicles in the nearby modular units.

“The advantage of a Pallet shelter, versus cubicles or congregate shelter, is just the sense of safety, and the dignity of being able to shut and lock a door is a little bit more stabilizing for folks,” Newman said. This stability, in turn, allows CCS to better assess people’s needs. Newman said CCS has “been intentional about trying to move people into the Pallet shelters who are working with case managers” to get into housing, using the shelters as “practice housing, in a way.” The bright, relatively breezy units are an obvious upgrade from the nearby cubicles, which—although more private than a mat or cot at a mass shelter site—are dark, musty, and uninviting.

Pallet shelter units cost more to build than tiny houses—the price starts at about $5,300 a unit, compared to about $4,000 for a tiny house, according to figures provided by Pallet and LIHI, respectively. King County, which owns the land where the Junction Point shelter is located, has bought 74 Pallet units, including the 20 at Junction Point and 46 for a future site on Aurora Ave. N., plus three at a shelter in Bellevue and five at Eagle Village, a group of mostly modular shelters operated by the Chief Seattle Club in SoDo.

Lua Belgarde, the site manager at Eagle Village, said Chief Seattle Club did have to ask for physical changes, which Pallet made “very quickly,” so that people in wheelchairs or on crutches could access the units and get into and out of the built-in bed, which was originally too far off the ground. The shelters also lack air conditioning, making them “hotter inside than it was outside” during last summer’s heat wave, Belgarde said.

Inside a Pallet shelter.
Inside a Pallet shelter.

Still, as at Junction Point, people at Eagle Village tend to prefer living in their own space to sleeping in a trailer in close proximity to other people, Belgarde said. Two young men who have been in Pallet units at Eagle Village for close to a year “really like the option—they say that in the trailers, the rooms are too close together, they can hear people talking, so having the tiny house option with space in between” is appealing, she said.

Pallet shelters have their critics—among them LIHI director Sharon Lee, who spent much of the pandemic seeking funds from the city to build more tiny house villages. Lee says the same “homey” qualities that Bills said can turn tiny house villages into “forever homes” are what make them one of the most popular shelter options. “Most people like to have a sense of identity with where they’re living—they can decorate it and it’s attractive,” Lee said. “We’ve also heard feedback from people, especially neighbors and community residents, that they like that they’re colorful… and of course because they look like a tiny house.” In contrast, Lee said, Pallet shelters appear “sterile-looking” and “flimsy.”

“I understand why some cities are buying pallet shelters, because they’re quick to put up, but I think it’s much better to have a higher quality of materials and living environment,” Lee said. Continue reading “Pallet, a For-Profit Provider of Utilitarian Shelters, Could Be a Contender for County Funding”

Hotel Shelter Closes, County Debates Jail Releases, State Mulls Human Services Mandate, and Harrell Appoints New Directors

1. On Friday, January 29, the Executive Pacific Hotel concluded its service as a homeless shelter. By the end of the day, the Low-Income Housing Institute had relocated almost everyone still living there to permanent housing, shelter, or another hotel. According to LIHI director Sharon Lee, just one resident declined to engage with agency staffers and returned to unsheltered homelessness. Overall, 79 of the 91 households (totaling 99 people living in the hotel as of last October moved (or will move) into permanent housing, five now live at one of LIHI’s tiny house villages, and one moved into transitional housing. Just six left without a specific destination. 

That’s a positive outcome, especially compared to the worst-case scenario: Dozens of people back out on the street in the coldest months of the year. But it isn’t the outcome former Mayor Jenny Durkan wanted when she agreed, reluctantly, to spend federal COVID relief dollars on the hotels. Under the administration’s ambitious, highly unrealistic plan, the hotels would serve as short-term way stations rather than traditional shelters. People would move in off the street, sign up for services, and move swiftly into market-rate housing using short-term  “rapid rehousing” subsidies as a bridge between living on the street and self-sufficiency. 

The reasons this ambitious plan was a failure were obvious from the beginning. Rapid rehousing works best for people who have few barriers to housing, such as people who recently became homeless because of job loss or another temporary condition. The hotel, in contrast, served many chronically homeless people with complex physical and mental health conditions that contributed to their homelessness, including people the city referred there during its regular encampment sweeps. “It was a poor design, because the people who were moved into the hotel did not match the profile of who would be successful in rapid rehousing,” Lee said.

By the end of its ten-month contract, LIHI and its rapid-rehousing partner, Catholic Community Services, had enrolled just 33 people in rapid rehousing. Enrollment, as we’ve reported, is just the beginning of a lengthy process that may not ultimately lead to housing.

At a meeting of the Seattle City Council’s homelessness committee meeting last Friday, committee chair Andrew Lewis said he hoped the city’s Human Services Department would provide “a pretty detailed after action report on the rapid rehousing function, to determine what lessons we can learn and transition over to the King County Regional Homelessness authority,” which has taken over HSD’s former responsibilities as the chief homelessness agency in the region.

2. The King County Council held a public hearing on Tuesday about several possible options to reduce the number of people in county jails in response to a surge of COVID-19 infections among inmates and staff. King County Executive Dow Constantine, the county prosecutor’s office, and King County courts all have a say in various aspects of who is booked into or released from jail.

The hearing centered on demands from unlikely allies: As case numbers skyrocketed in early January, the unions representing King County’s public defenders and correctional officers joined forces to sound the alarm about deteriorating jail conditions that have left inmates unable to attend court hearings and overworked guards sleeping in empty cells. The unions asked the county to immediately stop booking people into jail or issuing warrants for nonviolent offenses, and to release everyone currently held in jails for nonviolent offenses.

Elbert Aull, a felony attorney with the King County Department of Public Defense, told council members that the constant “churn” in and out of King County jails has exacerbated the spread of the virus behind bars. Aull added that many defendants will have their cases dismissed by a judge or dropped by a prosecutor once they make it to court. “Implementing booking restrictions would mean that people who are going to be released anyway won’t sit in jail for half a week while they wait for a judge or prosecutor to do the inevitable,” he said.

King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg countered that the county has already reduced the county’s jail population dramatically, from roughly 1,900 to 1,350, and argued that those who remain in jail are incarcerated for good reason. More than 70 percent of jail inmates in King County, Satterberg said, are charged with either a violent crime or a “serious” felony like violating a protection order; all but 12 of the 1,350 people in county custody face felony charges.

Council president Claudia Balducci, who previously ran the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention, also argued that the council could hire more corrections officers. “Whatever we do temporarily will not be fixed long-term until we can get staffing to where it needs to be,” she said.

“It is always the department’s intent to provide excellent customer service,” DSHS director Babs Roberts told the committee, but “in order to provide the service levels this bill demands, DSHS must have adequate, modernized infrastructure and sufficient staffing levels in place, and we do not.”

3. The state Department of Social and Health Services responded briefly to legislation that would force the agency to improve access to its services during a meeting of the state house’s Housing, Human Services, and Veterans committee on Tuesday, but did not come out against the proposal. The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Strom Peterson (D-21, Edmonds) would require DSHS to reduce phone hold times to 30 minutes or less, reopen its service centers to walk-in clients, and “ensure that clients may apply for and receive services in a manner that is suited to the clients’ needs, [including] needs related to technology, language, and ability.” If DSHS failed to meet any of those standards, the bill would prohibit the agency from cutting off clients’ benefits.

“It is always the department’s intent to provide excellent customer service,” DSHS director Babs Roberts told the committee, but “in order to provide the service levels this bill demands, DSHS must have adequate, modernized infrastructure and sufficient staffing levels in place, and we do not.” Last week, bill cosponsor Nicole Macri (D-43, Seattle) told PubliCola that she sympathized with the agency’s staffing crunch, but added that the agency has not asked the legislature for funding to help them recruit and hire more workers.

Catholic Community Services deputy director Dan Wise told the committee, which Peterson chairs, that the 4,000-employee organization she represents has faced challenges similar to those at DSHS. “I totally understand the difficulty of hiring and maintaining a trained workforce,” Wise said. But, she added, CCS has “continued to offer in-person services” throughout the pandemic. “It hasn’t been easy. It hasn’t been safe. It has been absolutely necessary,  because I know that if we limit our in-person service like DSHS has done, the people who fall thru the cracks are in the depths of poverty.” The bill is scheduled for a second committee hearing at 10am on Friday, February 4.

4. Mayor Bruce Harrell announced three new additions to his administration on Tuesday. Former mayoral candidate (and ex-state legislator) Jessyn Farrell, who endorsed Harrell after failing to make it through the 2021 mayoral primary, will head up the Office of Sustainability and the Environment, which deals with overall environmental policy in the city.

Markham McIntyre, the current vice president of the Metropolitan Seattle Chamber of Commerce and the head of CASE, the Chamber’s Amazon-backed independent expenditure committee, will direct the Office of Economic Development. CASE sat out the most recent election after its attempt in 2019 to unseat left-leaning city council members, including Kshama Sawant, backfired spectacularly; in 2017, the business group spent more than $600,000 to help former mayor Jenny Durkan get elected.

Greg Wong, an attorney at Pacifica Law Group, will lead the Department of Neighborhoods. According to the announcement, Wong is a former schoolteacher who “led school levy campaigns, helped establish the City’s high-quality, affordable preschool program, and served in executive board roles with several community nonprofits.” He is the only one of the three directors announced Tuesday who will replace a permanent, rather than am interim, department head; former DON director Andrés Mantilla had already told the Harrell team that he was leaving prior to Tuesday’s announcement.

—Erica C. Barnett, Paul Kiefer

Seattle’s Hotel-Based Shelters Racing Against Deadline to Close at the End of the Month

King's Inn
King’s Inn in Belltown

By Erica C. Barnett

With less than three weeks remaining before their contracts expire, the organizations that run two hotel-based shelters the city funded last year are scrambling to find housing for more than 100 homeless clients. One, the Chief Seattle Club, needs to relocate about 60 people from the King’s Inn shelter in Belltown; the other, the Low Income Housing Institute, must find shelter or housing for about 90 people still staying at the Executive Pacific hotel downtown.

Under their current contracts, which the King County Regional Homelessness Authority took over and declined to extend late last year, both hotels must empty out on January 31. (The actual contracts last another month, to give the agencies time to clean and repair any damage to the properties.) Both agencies stopped accepting new clients last year, and LIHI started moving hotel guests into other properties it operates, including tiny house villages, shelters, and permanent housing. Chief Seattle Club, meanwhile, made plans to move people from King’s Inn into two housing projects it had under development, including one, ?al?al, that was supposed to open in October.

Since then, however, the upsurge in COVID cases have combined with a longstanding shortage of construction industry workers to delay ?al?al and other housing projects and put the agencies’ timelines in question. Anne Xuan Clark, a development consultant for Chief Seattle Club, described a cascade of delays that have pushed back the opening date for ?al?al again and again: Rescheduled fire inspections, the discovery of an underground conduit that upended the schedule to pour a sidewalk outside the building, interminable waits for utility hookups. “Every construction project in the city is facing delays,” Clark said.

Not every person at King’s Inn will move into Chief Seattle Club’s own housing; some will use federal emergency housing vouchers, and some will use short-term rapid rehousing subsidies; the same is true for those currently staying at the Executive Pacific, and those have stayed at both hotels in the past and moved into other shelter or housing.

Since last year, the upsurge in COVID cases have combined with a longstanding shortage of construction industry workers to delay ?al?al and other housing projects and put the agencies’ timelines in question.

LIHI is facing similar challenges, its director, Sharon Lee, said; if several new projects where LIHI had hoped to move hotel guests aren’t finished by the end of January, “we may have to put some people in another temporary [shelter],” such as a hotel. “We don’t think that’s the best solution either—to move them from one hotel to another hotel.”

The problems LIHI and Chief Seattle Club are facing as they wind down their hotel-based shelters are only partly the result of housing construction delays. In fact, the biggest challenges were baked into the contracts from the very beginning. Former mayor Jenny Durkan, who initially resisted accepting federal COVID relief dollars to move people from the streets to hotels, agreed to a very limited hotel-based shelter program last year on the condition that the hotels would serve as way stations for people moving swiftly into housing, rather than long-term shelter. The idea was to move people from encampments to hotels to market-rate apartments, using “rapid rehousing” subsidies as a bridge between unsheltered, often chronic, homelessness to self-sufficiency.

Rapid rehousing is generally a poor fit for people who have been living outdoors for a long time or those with conditions that make it hard to work. Yet those are precisely the people the city prioritized for the new hotel-based shelter beds.

As we’ve reported, rapid rehousing is most effective for people with minimal barriers to housing and employment—those who can get jobs quickly and earn enough to afford an apartment in Seattle. It is generally a poor fit for people who have been living outdoors for a long time or those with conditions that make it hard to work. Yet those are precisely the people the city prioritized for the new hotel-based shelter beds. As a result, people did not tend to move from hotel rooms to apartments; instead, they ended up back on the streets, moved into other forms of shelter like tiny house villages, or stayed put. Continue reading “Seattle’s Hotel-Based Shelters Racing Against Deadline to Close at the End of the Month”

Homeless Authority Won’t Extend Hotel Shelter Contracts; County Won’t Adopt Republican Sweeps Policy

1. The King County Regional Homelessness Authority informed the Low Income Housing Institute this week that it will not extend its lease on the downtown Executive Pacific Hotel past January, ending a program launched by Mayor Jenny Durkan that was supposed to swiftly move hundreds of people from unsheltered homelessness into permanent housing using a combination of new permanent supportive housing and “rapid rehousing” rent subsidies for market-rate apartments. The city has used the hotel as a primary receiving site for people displaced from encampments because of sweeps, which are now performed by the Parks Department.

In a letter to the KCRHA’s implementation board, which includes elected officials from across the county, KCRHA CEO Marc Dones wrote, “Key factors [in the decision] include that each current guest has an exit plan, the lease costs requested by one of the hotels has significantly increased, and one of the service providers”—the Chief Seattle Club, which operates a shelter at King’s Inn in Belltown—”stated a desire to close on schedule.”

As recently as a month ago, the authority said that it wanted to keep the hotels open after their current contracts with the city expire, potentially using $6 million in unspent rapid rehousing funds to cover the expense.

Now, the authority may use that same money to “prevent closures and loss of beds in several of our existing permanent shelter facilities,” according to the letter to the implementation board. The authority is currently running a survey of providers to find out how much money they need to make up their 2022 funding gaps and the number of shelter beds that are at risk if they don’t get additional funding.

LIHI executive director Sharon Lee said she was “shocked” to find out that the homelessness authority will not extend the hotel’s lease, adding that LIHI doesn’t know where the 126 people still living at the Executive Pacific will go.

“We have quite a number of people in the hotel who are very interested in moving into tiny houses” in LIHI’s tiny house villages, Lee said but many of those spots have already been claimed by the city’s HOPE Team, which offers shelter placements to people in encampments the city is about to sweep. LIHI recently opened two new tiny house villages—Rosie’s Place in the University District and Friendship Heights in North Seattle—and expanded an existing village in Interbay.

LIHI received 93 federal emergency housing vouchers through the federal American Rescue Plan. Allocating the vouchers could open some spaces in existing villages and shelter programs, but it’s unlikely that enough beds will open up to shelter all 126 current hotel residents.

The hotel-based shelter program was based on the assumption that it would be a fairly simple matter to move people from unsheltered homelessness to market-rate housing in a matter of weeks or months. But as PubliCola noted when the city adopted this plan, rapid rehousing subsidies work best for people in good physical and mental health who just need some temporary financial assistance to get back on their feet. By using the hotels as receiving sites for sweeps, the city engineered failure right into its plan.

Currently, Lee said, just 11 of the people living at the hotel are “enrolled” in rapid rehousing, which simply means they have started the process to qualify for a subsidy.

Lee estimates that LIHI will have to move about 24 people out of the hotel every week between now and the end of January to have everyone out by the end of the lease. “The concern I have is that the end of January  is the coldest part of winter and we have two major holidays between now and then,” Lee said.

2. King County Council member Reagan Dunn, who recently announced he is running against Democratic Congresswoman Kim Schrier (D-8), tried unsuccessfully to pass a motion (similar to a city council resolution) directing County Executive Dow Constantine to adopt a plan that would make it easier for the county to remove encampments in unincorporated parts of King County. (Dunn’s mother, the late Jennifer Dunn, represented the Eighth Congressional District until 2005; in 2019, Schrier became the first Democrat to represent the district.)

Because the committee where Dunn introduced his motion is made up of two Democrats (sure votes against the proposal) and two Republicans (Dunn and Kathy Lambert, who recently lost her reelection bid), the vote was a foregone conclusion. However, it did give Dunn and Lambert an opportunity to issue a scathing (and, for Dunn, politically beneficial) press release “slamming” their Democratic colleagues, Girmay Zahilay and Joe McDermott, for “refus[ing] to even engage in a conversation about how to provide housing and support services to people currently living in County parks or other County-owned property.”

In fact, the legislation was silent on the question of housing and support services. Instead, it would have represented a first step toward banning encampments on public land in unincorporated King County and empowering county officials to sweep encampments for a broad array of reasons, including the presence of human waste, lack of running water, and criminal activity.

Noting that King County plans to eventually house as many as 1,600 people through the Health Through Housing sales tax, Dunn said, “I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect now that there has been such an investment in these services that these open spaces begin to be cleared. … If there is help available, King County should have expectations that people utilize that help and they should be prepared to remove encampments that are a public nuisance and a danger.”

The last annual count of King County’s homeless population, in 2020, found about 5,600 people living unsheltered across the county. The point-in-time count, which King County will forgo for a second consecutive year in 2022, is widely considered an undercount.

—Erica C. Barnett

City, County Officials Want to Keep Seattle’s Hotel-Based Shelters Open Next Year. Providers Aren’t So Sure.

King's Inn
King’s Inn

By Erica C. Barnett

Both the city of Seattle and the new King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA) have said they hope to extend the contracts for two hotel-based shelters until the middle of 2022—months longer than the existing contracts, which end on January 31. But it’s unclear where the money will come from, or whether the shelter providers themselves are on board with

Earlier this year, after a lengthy debate, the city approved contracts with three service providers—Chief Seattle Club, the Low-Income Housing Institute, and Catholic Community Services—to operate two hotels in downtown Seattle on a short-term (10-month) basis. The new program, which launched in April, was supposed to move people swiftly from the street into private-market apartments using “rapid rehousing” rent subsidies, which assume that a person will be able to earn enough money to pay full market rent within several months to a year.

“We would ideally like more time to keep the hotel open. But we still need a viable plan to transition people into low income and [permanent supportive] housing.”—LIHI Director Sharon lee

In theory, this constant churn would make it possible for fewer than 200 hotel rooms to move many hundreds of people in to permanent housing during the 10 months the city planned to keep them open, as people moved indoors, stabilized, and quickly found apartments they could pay for with their rapid-rehousing subsidies. Chief Seattle Club was chosen to run the rapid rehousing program at King’s Inn in Belltown, and Catholic Community Services operates the rapid rehousing program at the Low Income Housing Institute-run Executive Pacific Hotel downtown.

In reality, this never happened at anything close to the scale the mayor’s office predicted when they were talking up the program last year. Instead, the city designated the hotels as receiving sites for people swept from large encampments, including high-profile sweeps at Miller Park, Denny Park, Cal Anderson Park, and Pioneer Square.

LIHI director Sharon Lee told PubliCola she is “very concerned about what to do, as the end of January 2022 is fast approaching and we have over 140 people living in the hotel. … We would ideally like more time to keep the hotel open. But we still need a viable plan to transition people into low income and [permanent supportive] housing. We would also have to use attrition and stop taking in new people at EHP to meet the January deadline.”

Anne Martens, a spokeswoman for the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, says extending both of the hotel contracts is “a priority for the RHA”—a priority that could be funded using “underspend” (money left over) from HSD’s 2021 budget.

Derrick Belgarde, director of the Chief Seattle Club, said CSC isn’t “keen on extending” their contract at King’s Inn, due to issues at the site (the elevator doesn’t work) and the mismatch between the people living at the hotel, a third of whom are elderly or disabled, and rapid rehousing.

In July, PubliCola reported that CSC plans to move many of the people currently living at King’s Inn into CSC’s own permanent supportive housing, including some units that haven’t been finished yet. However, that plan assumed people would have access to rapid rehousing subsidies for at least a year, which isn’t happening; according to Belgarde, funding for CSC’s rapid rehousing program is set to expire in September, before all the new housing is available.

“We have consistently been telling members they have a 12-month subsidy,” Belgarde said. “The [rapid rehousing] contract is moving to KCRHA so we plan to negotiate an extension with them directly.” Continue reading “City, County Officials Want to Keep Seattle’s Hotel-Based Shelters Open Next Year. Providers Aren’t So Sure.”

Scramble for Slots at New Tiny House Village Shows Consequences of Shelter Scarcity

Alex Pedersen
Council member Alex Pedersen; Seattle Channel screenshot.

By Erica C. Barnett

Earlier this year, as the city prepared to sweep a small encampment in the University District where a man had recently been shot, residents and businesses in the area rallied around an idea that seemed to address one of the fundamental flaws with the city’s encampment policy: Instead of simply clearing out Olga Park and forcing everyone to leave, why not give encampment residents first dibs on a tiny house village that was expected to open nearby in about a month?

The idea would have solved two related problems. Neighbors complained that the encampment was particularly disruptive—before the shooting, there were many reports of fights, fires, and threats—and, at the same time, encampment residents couldn’t exactly pick up stakes and go inside. “My spiel [to the city] was, ‘If you guys are going to put tiny house villages in neighborhoods, it would show the benefit of having a tiny house village if it was for people in that neighborhood,” said David Delgado, the University District neighborhood care coordinator for the outreach group REACH.

Just over half of the referrals to Rosie’s Village—about 20—will come from the surrounding area; the rest will reportedly come from upcoming encampment sweeps in Lower Woodland Park and the Ballard Commons.

Seattle City Councilmember Alex Pedersen, who represents the U District, was an enthusiastic supporter of the Low Income Housing Institute’s tiny house village at NE 45th and Roosevelt Way NE, known as Rosie’s Village, in part because it could provide a shelter option for unhoused people in the area while addressing neighborhood and business concerns about trash, needles, and other issues related to the unsheltered population.

Although neither Pedersen nor his staff responded to our requests for an interview, Andrew Lewis, who chairs the council’s homelessness committee, praised Pedersen for being “so pushy and so organized” in getting a tiny house village in his district.

“A big part of his motivation is he wants it to be a resource for his district,” Lewis said. “Generally speaking, as we’re going to have six new villages coming online, I would like to see if we can have dedicated referrals that concentrate on the neighborhood where the village is sited.”

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Ultimately, the city swept Olga Park and encampment residents were scattered throughout the city. Some stayed in the U District, moving to spots near I-5 and other parts of Ravenna Park, while others moved to places like Lower Woodland Park. Rosie’s Village, which the city says can accommodate about 50 people, finally started taking referrals from the city’s HOPE team, which coordinates shelter referrals prior to encampment removals, this week. According LIHI director Sharon Lee, just over half of the referrals to Rosie’s Village—about 20—will come from the surrounding area; the rest reportedly will come from upcoming encampment sweeps in Lower Woodland Park and the Ballard Commons.

Kevin Mundt, a spokesman for HSD, said that “while the expectation was that a number of referrals from the vicinity would be made to Rosie’s Tiny House Village, the City never intended, or communicated, that the Village would only accept referrals from people experiencing homelessness in the University District.” Earlier this year, he added, the city moved people living unsheltered in the University District to hotels and shelters in other neighborhoods, including the Executive Pacific Hotel shelter, also operated by LIHI, downtown. Continue reading “Scramble for Slots at New Tiny House Village Shows Consequences of Shelter Scarcity”